Thursday 11/17/16

  1. Magnificent Myth
  2. Racial tu quoque
  3. Those messy social issues
  4. Chief Executive
  5. Weaponizing empathy


First Things

1

Perhaps you hesitate to accept my debunking of this widely held rumour about Plato’s Doctrine—the alleged “noble lie”—simply because the bunk version is so widely held. Why has no scholar before now noted this gross mistranslation of Plato? In fact, I am not alone. In his admirable Penguin translation, Desmond Lee notes,

the phrase here translated as ‘magnificent myth’…has been conventionally mistranslated ‘noble lie’; and this has been used to support the charge that Plato countenances manipulation by propaganda. But the myth is accepted by all three classes, Guardians included. It is meant to replace the national traditions which any community has, which are intended to express the kind of community it is, or wishes to be, its ideals, rather than to state matters of fact. And one of Plato’s own criticisms of democracy was that its politicians constantly mislead it, governing by propaganda rather than reason.

Lee’s translation of the phrase (as “magnificent myth”) is certainly a step in the right direction. But it still supplies a noun (“myth”) where there is none in the text, and it excises the other two qualifying adjectives (“some” and “one”). Moreover, “myth” has a pejorative connotation in English, and thus is not adequate for the rehabilitation of the Plato Doctrine. A translation more suitable for advancing Lee’s keen observations would be “some one noble [story],” with the more neutral “story” for the pejorative “myth.”

I’m kind of partial to “magnificent myth,” but I understand Christopher Morrissey’s point.

Now: How could any observant Christian think that the “some one noble [story]” is other than God becoming permanently a flesh-and-blood human to reconcile all things to himself? What possibly could rank higher than that?

Tertiary Things

2

I tried to excerpt Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s How identity politics blew up in Democrats’ faces, but I gave up on excerpts capturing its essence.

It’s a sort of tu quoque to the liberal charge that Trump won by pandering to America’s base racial instincts, and in my estimation, it’s a worthy addition to my collection of “what the heck happened 11/8/16?” articles.

The conclusion:

That Trump is a grotesque and immoral character whose naked appeals to white supremacism are also grotesque and immoral is something we can and should all acknowledge. But we should simultaneously note that in this election cycle, both political coalitions have worked very, very hard at keeping the electorate polarized along racial lines. And if we buy Frank’s premises, we have to contemplate the possibility that it is now the Democrats, the party of money and privilege, who are hard at work getting working-class voters to vote against their interests for the benefit of the aristocracy.

3

One of the things I’d wanted to excerpt from Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry was this, riffing off the “What’s the matter with Kansas” reductionism of everything to economic interests:

What of the idea that Americans should or do vote with their economic self-interest as their primary concern? A sincerely pro-life voter might vote for the pro-life party even against her own economic self-interest if abortion is her top priority. This is not only not deranged, it’s admirable.

I am emboldened to quote it now because an item at Crisis picks up a cognate theme;

Social issues are messy. They have to do with basic human connections, orientations, and aspects of identity. These include family, cultural community, religion, and relations between the sexes. So they have to do with basic and very complicated aspects of life that people feel strongly about.

That causes problems for people who run things today. Their ideal of reason and principle of legitimacy means they want to handle everything through supposedly rational, neutral, and transparent institutions like global markets and expert bureaucracies. But personal loyalties, ultimate commitments, and ideas about how best to live can’t be sold, traded, bureaucratized, or turned over to experts. So from the standpoint of liberal institutions they are unmanageable and incomprehensible. They mess things up.

The result is that our rulers refuse to deal with them on their own terms but insist on treating them as private hobbies or consumption choices that shouldn’t be allowed to affect anything ….

It’s very good but relatively long by internet ADD standards. I always like the way Kalb writes even when I disagree. This time I don’t disagree; how could I?

“Liberal institutions,” by the way, I take to include the establishments of both parties — in the ironic sense wherein the U.S. is divided into conservative liberals and liberal liberals. I have seen that kind of “conservative” politician squirm over the social issues as if they were a mere distraction from the real business of governance.

4

Why President Trump could be a blessing for Congress is Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s second column Wednesday, and it’s good, too.

Since most Congressional Republicans have only slightly more use for Trump than do Congressional Democrats, this may be a chance for Congress to resume its role as “the most important of the three branches of government” and to restore the Presidency to its proper role: “The president is supposed to apply the laws Congress makes, not be a legislator in his or her own right.”

All it takes is for Congress to fear Trump’s wielding of Executive power more than they fear the outcome of the difficult process of compromise to get a good that’s possible rather than to hold out for an impossible best. But these days, I’m afraid that’s a pretty tall order.

5

I would not stand for treating atheists, gays, progressives, et al., the way they treat conservatives. For example, I’ve said here many times that I am glad the closet is no more. But it is not a moral advance to get rid of the closet for gays, only to frog-march religious conservatives into it.

If the faculty, staff, and student body of Muhlenberg College cannot imagine why half the voters in this country — including 29 percent of Latino voters eight percent of black voters — chose Trump, other than bigotry, then it is they who have the problem, not the country.

[T]hey politicize and weaponize empathy for identified victim classes as a way of gaining power over opponents. This has been going on for quite some time, and has been very effective. I’ve mentioned in this space before how shocked I was back in 1994 to have been having lunch at a DC restaurant with a friend and two of her female acquaintances, all three of them involved in Democratic politics. One of them brought up abortion, and said, hey, you’re a Catholic, what do you think about abortion? I told them I’m pro-life, but didn’t want to discuss it at lunch. That was just about the last word I got in. All three women dogpiled me rhetorically, telling me that I had no right to an opinion on it because I was a man, a religious bigot, et cetera. This is someone all three had just spent a pleasant morning with, walking around DC.

After a few minutes, one of the women at the table folded her arms and looked frightened. Someone asked her what was wrong. She said, “I don’t feel safe with him at the table.”

I stood up, threw down money to pay my bill, and walked out of the restaurant. And that was the end of me and them. I could not believe how pathetic that conversation was, and how childish and manipulative was that young woman who feigned fright as a way to marginalize me. Little did I know that she was ahead of her time. And you know, she probably wasn’t feigning anything. I don’t know where she went to college, but I would not be surprised if she graduated from one of the liberal arts schools that taught her to be afraid of conservatives.

(Rod Dreher, Trump & Civic Empathy)

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.